What is a vaginal discharge?

Normal vaginal discharge is clear or milky-white and does not have any particular unpleasant smell. Secreted from glands that women have in the walls of the vagina and cervix, vaginal discharge serves as a mechanism that cleans the vagina from unwanted bacteria and dead cells. Because of your vaginal discharge, your vagina maintains itself clean and healthy. Sometimes, vaginal discharge may change in color, consistency, or smell. These alterations are natural and happen according to a woman's menstrual cycle, or arousal state. 

When these changes persist and present with significant differences regarding the consistency, color, or smell of the vaginal discharge, you should think of alternative causes than the natural ones. If you are sexually active and you also experience additional symptoms, such as itchiness, burning sensation, or urination disturbances, make sure you get tested for STDs. STD rapid kit tests are ideal for using alone at home and having results in fifteen minutes. Sometimes, the cause of your vaginal discharge is not sexually related. Infection with other bacteria from other parts of your body, or solely imbalances in your vaginal flora may lead to abnormal discharge. 

Vaginal discharge and the female reproductive system

Your vagina and cervix have a group of small glands in their walls that secrete fluids, which make up your vaginal discharge. Sometimes, these glands secrete more fluids, depending on the things you do. For example, during sexual stimulation, your vagina excretes more fluids to ease penetration and the sexual act, in general. Without these fluids, sex would be painful. Some of the glands responsible for fluids production are the Bartholin's glands, located in the external genitalia. 

The outer genitalia consists of the clitoris, the labia majora or large lips, the labia minora or small lips, and the Bartholin's glands. Your internal genitalia consists of the vagina, the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus, the ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Therefore, the female reproductive system has a group of external and a group of internal organs. Some causes of abnormal genital discharge may affect your vagina, whereas others may affect your cervix. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, lead to cervicitis, whereas other bacteria result in vaginitis. Symptoms alone cannot tell you which part of your reproductive system got infected. However, vaginal discharge can give you some valuable information about the cause of the infection, and consequently, the organ of your reproductive system that is affected.  

Five causes of vaginal discharge 

There are some main reasons why you might have an abnormal vaginal discharge. The following are the five most common causes of genital discharge in women:

1. Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis usually produces a thin and grayish-white vaginal discharge, accompanied by a foul, fishy smell. Bacterial vaginosis is most commonly asymptomatic, just like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Getting tested is crucial to find the exact cause and administer the appropriate treatment. Bacterial vaginosis can be unassociated to sex. Women might get infected by wiping themselves in a wrong matter after using the restroom. Some cases of bacterial vaginosis are due to E.coli bacteria, found in the rectum, and anal area of a woman. 

2. Trichomoniasis

Trichomonas infection produces a yellow or green vaginal discharge. Trichomoniasis is an STD that produces additional symptoms and signs, such as itchiness, irritation, or a burning sensation. Trichomoniasis-associated vaginal discharge is frothy and has a strong odor. Trichomonas infection is not something you should ignore. If you have a yellow or green vaginal discharge, get tested as soon as possible. The most common way for women to get a trichomonas infection is through unprotected vaginal sex with an infected partner. 

3. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a commonly occurring STD that you can acquire through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It is curable but can lead to severe complications if left untreated. The disease is usually asymptomatic but produces a yellowish vaginal discharge when it presents with symptoms. Find out if you have gonorrhea with an STD rapid kit test. 

4. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease that you can acquire through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Its symptoms may be profound or absent, making it hard to diagnose and easy to spread. Large quantities of vaginal discharge that is yellow and has a foul smell are typical of chlamydia when it is symptomatic. The disease can lead to severe complications if left untreated. Find out if you have chlamydia with an STD rapid kit test. 

5. Yeast infection

A yeast infection produces white, thick, cottage-like vaginal discharge. Additional and new symptoms, such as itchiness, burning sensation, or irritation, might accompany a yeast infection. Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted diseases. They are usually the result of imbalances of the bacteria and fungi in your vagina, making up your vaginal flora. They may appear after treatment with antibiotics that you receive orally or intra-vaginally.

6. Cervical cancer

One of the signs of cervical cancer is a foul-smelling vaginal discharge. The discharge is continuous and may be pale, brown, watery, or pink-reddish and mixed with blood. You can diagnose cervical cancer early if you screen yourself regularly with a Pap test. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most well-established cause of cervical cancer.  

Can you prevent abnormal vaginal discharge?

You can prevent abnormal vaginal discharge that results from STDs by avoiding unprotected sex. Using condoms or dental dams, when practicing oral sex, can help you avoid STDs or limit their spread. Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis have a less understood cause and mechanism of manifestation. Most of the time, they have to do with imbalances in your vagina and its flora. To avoid yeast infections, try not to douche and wear the right underwear. Avoid wearing synthetic material that favors the development of moisture environments. Also, make sure you receive intra-vaginal supplements when taking certain medications, such as antibiotics. To prevent bacterial vaginosis, apply the same rules. Also, avoid using strong scents or deodorants in your genital area. Finally, do not overwash and try to wipe from front to back when using the restroom. Cleaning yourself the other way around may transfer bacteria from your rectum and anus to your vagina. 

What happens in the body if chlamydia is left untreated?